1. Its Members.
2. Its Officers.
4. Its Perpetuity.
There is no account in the New Testament of any mode of procedure by which churches were organized. As an institution Christ founded the church while on earth, left it in care of the apostles and prophets with delegated authority. Before his return to the Father He gave the commission to the church through the apostles and promised His presence with them until the end of the age. He also promised to send the Holy Spirit as their helper in the task of perpetuating the church. The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost and the book of Acts is an account of what was done from Pentecost until the imprisonment of Paul. The first organized church was at Jerusalem. This church was scattered through persecution, this led to missionary endeavour and the organizing of churches in Asia and Europe. The second church was at Antioch in Syria. From this church Paul and Barnabas went out as missionaries. Then we read of the churches in Galatia and other provinces of the Roman Empire.
It seems evident from the New Testament that Jesus gave no formal prescription for the organization of any church. For sometime after Pentecost the disciples of Christ had no thought of separating themselves from the religious life of Israel. Temple-worship was adhered to "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart" (#Ac 2:46); "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour" (#Ac 3:1), being supplemented by the teaching of the apostles, and by fellowship in prayer and the breaking of bread "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (#Ac 2:42). Organization was of gradual development according to emerging needs as when deacons were selected to serve tables so that the spiritual leaders might give themselves to the ministry of prayer and the word. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (#Ac 6:2-4).
Baptist churches come into being today somewhat after this manner. A group of believers in a community wish to become a church. The members in conference will make this wish known to other churches, and these churches send messengers to counsel them in accomplishing their desire. For the sake of order and recognition these messengers will inquire into their belief, and if it is thought wise, the visitors endorse their articles of faith and recommend their constitution as an independent church. These visiting brethren do not organize the church. Since the church is to be self governing it must of necessity and logically be self constituted. And so those wishing to become a church enter into covenant to that effect; and another church is born. The help from the outside is for the sake of order and fellowship and is not absolutely essential. (Note. See Introduction to this volume as to the belief of the Publisher and the organization of a new church.)
It is quite clear that the members were born again and baptized believers in Christ as Lord and Savior. And nobody else has any business in a church of Christ. There must be blood before water, and salvation before church membership. The church is a fellowship and partnership of believers and believers are saved people. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (#Joh 3:16; "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (#Joh 3:36); "And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (#Ac 13:39); "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (#Ro 5:1). When sinners repent towards God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, their immediate duty is to be baptized and enter into the fellowship of the church as a servant of Christ.
#Eph 4:11: "And he gave some men to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, for the...equipment of God's people for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ..." (C. B. Williams).
1. Apostles and Prophets. These were temporary and had no successors. Prophets were not needed after the New Testament was written. Apostles had delegated authority not given to anyone else. That their office was temporary is obvious from their qualifications.
1a) To be an apostle one must have seen the risen Lord "Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection" (#Ac 1:22); "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?" (#1Co 9:1). Paul was the last person to see Him after His resurrection "And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time" (#1Co 15:8).
1b) One must have wrought "the signs of an apostle." "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (#2Co 12:12). And so from the very nature of the qualifications the apostolic office was temporary. There are no apostles among us today.
2. Evangelists. These were traveling preachers whose labor was not confined to any given locality. And we have these with us today.
3. Pastors and Teachers. These are local and are confined to a single church. It is the writer's opinion that this refers to one office, the pastor who is also the teacher in the church. Others may teach, but they are not a commissioned officer in the church. The text we are following says nothing about elders, or bishops, but from other scriptures we learn that they belong to the same office as pastor and teacher.
As an apostolic delegate, Titus was left by the apostle Paul in Crete to complete the organization of the churches and to ordain elders, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (#Tit 1:5). And in giving their qualifications these elders are called bishops "For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; "(#Tit 1:7). And in #Ac 20:28 the elders from Ephesus are enjoined by Paul to "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, (bishops), to feed (pastor, shepherd) the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." And so these elders were to do the work of an overseer and pastor in their respective churches. And in I Tim. II a bishop must be apt to teach. So the spiritual leader in the church must be able to care for the church as overseer and teacher. Baptist churches have leaders but no lords. "Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen" (#1Pe 5:14).
When the church is thought of as a working body, the spiritual leader is called BISHOP. When the church is viewed as the Lord's flock, he is called PASTOR, which means shepherd. When it is conceived as a school of God's children, he is called TEACHER.
A prelate of the Church of England asked Dr. George Truett, "Do you Baptist have bishops?"
"I did not know that. How many do you have in the United States?"
"Some 60,000 more or less." replied Truett.
The prelate was confounded and said, "Pon my word, I didn't know that." Of course he didn't, for he did not know what a New Testament bishop is.
4. Deacons. This office originated in a crisis caused by liberal giving. During prolonged revival which began at Pentecost there were many poor people, particularly widows. The well to do put money into a common fund to care for the poor. Barnabas sold some property and put the proceeds into this common fund. Ananias and Sapphira also sold a possession for this purpose and kept back part of the proceeds, pretending to give it all. All giving was voluntary and nothing like modern communism.
The apostles were administering this fund. The Grecians (foreign born Jews) complained that their widows were not getting their share of this fund. The apostles neither admitted nor denied the charge. They suggested a division of labor and urged the church to select seven "full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (#Ac 6:3). This suggestion was accepted by the whole multitude, and seven were chosen and "set before the apostles, "and ordained by the laying on of hands. The reason for this new office was that the apostles might give themselves exclusively to prayer and ministry of the word. The result was that "the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly..." (#Ac 6:7). For a better account of this the reader will turn to Acts the 6th chapter.
The church is a spiritual institution in a material world and has material needs and matters of business to look after. And so we may think of deacons as the business administrators of the church.
The churches of the New Testament were autonomous (self governing) and independent. Each church managed its own affairs. No other church or groups of churches had any authority over it. Each church was responsible only to Christ, its Head. Each church dismissed and received members, and exercised discipline over them. Each church determined its own activity and made its own program.
At the same time cooperative relations were entered into by New Testament churches. There are many examples of this. See #Ro 15:26,27 2Co 8:1-24 9:1-15 Ac 15:1-41. And so it is today, Baptist churches cooperate in many enterprises. But in and through it all each church acts voluntary and maintains its independence. The writer has a way of saying that the churches of Christ are dependent, independent, and interdependent. Each church is dependent upon God for success; it is independent, in that it is free from dominance of any other body; and it is interdependent, in that it works with other churches in kingdom enterprises. No church has the right to be a local church in its interests and labor. It must look beyond its own doors to other fields of labor. Any church that does not have missions on its heart has the death rattle in its throat.
After Peter confessed his belief in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah of the Old Testament), Jesus told him that this truth was not taught him by any human being, but by "My Father which is in heaven" (#Mt 16:17). "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter (petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build MY church; and the gates of hell (hades, the unseen realm of the dead) shall not prevail against it." In these words Jesus promised perpetuity to His church: it would not be swallowed up in death. This does not mean that no church will ever go out of existence, but that His institution would remain and always be found in churches. Many of the New Testament churches have ceased to exist, but there has never been a time when true churches ceased to exist. Our Lord provided for perpetuity when He gave the great commission to make disciples, baptize disciples, and teach them (disciples)... "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (age)" (#Mt 28:20). And until Christ returns there will be churches making and baptizing and teaching disciples. When Christ's saving work has been finished He will return in judgment, and the day of grace will be over. And who knows how soon this may be?